I first heard of All Time Low in 2005. I was living in Baltimore and word of The Party Scene was spreading quickly. It didn’t hurt that the phenomenal local music scene was helping to spread the fire of the Emerald-Moon records release fueled by venues like The Recher Theater (where All Time Low celebrated the release of their Hopeless Records full-length debut, So Wrong, It’s Right).
Having just graduated from high school, I didn’t initially buy into All Time Low’s sound because, at the time, I was heavily invested in blink-182’s self-titled album which had only been out for a year and a half.
2006 was accompanied by the band’s most valued disc yet, their EP Put Up or Shut Up. It was right around this time that I first saw the band live. They opened for The All-American Rejects at UMBC and, for being such a young band, I was stunned.
Since then, I’ve seen the band live six times. Each time, they’re better. But we’re already aware that the band can put on one hell of a live show. What about their studio work?
When I gave So Wrong, It’s Right a first listen, I was torn. I loved “Six Feet Under the Stars,” “Let It Roll,” “Remembering Sunday,” and underappreciated songs like “Vegas.” But I didn’t get much out of songs like “The Beach.” And I got absolutely nothing out of “Come One, Come All.”
Regardless, songs like “The Beach” inevitably grew on me, so I spent more time appreciating the melodic structures, guitar riffs, vocals, and lyrics.
By 2008, I relocated to the Midwest and was amazed to discover that the band was hugely popular in Chicago and the Quad-Cities. I wasn’t necessarily surprised; I was more intrigued that a band on an independent label had caught on so quickly, especially when the majority of my college friends spent their time listening to hip-hop and rap.
In 2009, Nothing Personal was released and listened to the album three of four times before deciding what my favorite songs were. I still think “Weightless” is a pop-rock gem.
While “Damned” and “Poppin’” are catchy, they weren’t the tracks that stood out to me. “Walls,” “Sick Little Games,” and “Break Your Little Heart” are, in my humble opinion, the best songs off of NP. It wasn’t until I watched Straight to DVD and saw “Therapy” performed live that I loved it.
I think that’s a testament to how good All Time Low is live. The best bands in the world can put the way they sound recorded to shame if they put on a memorable live show.
So, now it’s June 7th, 2011 and Dirty Work is out. Because I’m cool, I went to Wal-Mart last night at midnight so secure a copy of the disc. First listens with a band like All Time Low can be deceiving because they have multiple elements to their music. A few months from now, a song that didn’t speak volumes to me right away will suddenly emerge with a quiet but effective whisper that I would be foolish to ignore.
Having said that, here’s my track-by-track critique of All Time Low’s major label debut, Dirty Work:
1. Do You Want Me (Dead)? - The best way to jump-start the album. Super catchy, short, and to-the-point. At this point, you either love the band or hate it and they know it. As Oscar Wilde once said, “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
2. I Feel Like Dancin’- The lead single. Co-written by Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo. I understand the concept of the song. The song is a satire and it’s obvious that the guys shared a few laughs with Rivers while writing this song. It’s the goofiest song All Time Low has ever written. While I like the song, it’s one of my least favorites.
3. Forget About It- Three ridiculously catchy songs in a row? Yes, please. Love the guitar solo. Unfortunately, the speech by Alex during the bridge nearly destroys the song. It gets saved by some solid gang vocals.
4. Guts- This is the best song on the record. Fantastic lyrics, amazing melody, and the best chorus on the entire album. The palm muted guitar riff during the bridge is exceptional and the guitar solo may be the best the band has had since “Jasey Rae.” If it was up to me, this would be the next single.
5. Time-Bomb- One of my favorites. I can’t get enough of the first verse. The band’s sound is so together and Alex’s vocals shine. What I love about the bridge is its simplicity: three chords (G, A, and B) combined with a gorgeous lyric and melody. Great song.
6. Just the Way I’m Not- Def Leppard and Nothing Personal had a baby. Cheesiest bridge on the record. The transition from the bridge to the final chorus is awkward.
7. Under a Paper Moon- I think this song is a strong example of how Alex’s lyrics have evolved. The only thing that could have made this song better would have been a continuation of the instrumental section of the bridge. Still, it’s one of the best songs on the album.
8. Return the Favor- I don’t know what to make of this song. The guitar in the introduction is cool but it feels like it’s off an old Enrique Inglasias album. The melody is catchy, of course, but it feels out of place.
9. No Idea-I. Love. This. Song. The song’s single flaw is its length. The song clocks in at just under four and a half minutes. There’s a beautiful acoustic and vocal accompaniment from the 3:20 to the 3:40 point. If the song were to end along with this part instead of going on for another minute, I think it’d be even better than it already is.
10. A Daydream Away- The first all acoustic song since “Remembering Sunday.” While I like the acoustic arrangement and Alex’s vocals, the lyrics in the second verse kill it for me. “We’d laugh at all the douche-bag guys chasing down desperate wives” is such a weak line. It’s a shame too, because the lyrics in the bridge are outstanding: “We never stood a chance out there. Shooting love in real time. So we’ll take it over ice tonight with a little salt and a little lime.”
11. That Girl- A summer jam. Fast-paced, catchy, and fun. It’s nothing more than that, though.
12. Heroes- This is an ode to the Put Up or Shut Up sound. It’s the ideal way for the album to conclude. I can’t get enough of the bridge. The crunch of the guitars and the percussion sound incredible. The “St. Jimmy” style of palm muting mixes in nicely. It’s interesting the record’s final line is “We’re not listening.”
There’s something to like on every song on this album and there’s also something to criticize. It’s apparent that this band is heading in a direction that will allow it to be successful for several albums to come. I’m curious to hear how their sound matures during the next few years. This is a fantastic summer album and it showcases the band’s talent.
There has been a great deal of skepticism regarding this release. Fans have claimed All Time Low has sold out or changed their sound to sell more records, etc. I disagree. I think this album sounds how it ought to. I tip my hat to the guys for expanding their horizons, experimenting on Nothing Personal, and getting rid of a lot of the “suck” that slipped through the cracks on both of their previous full-lengths.
Go ahead and hate them. They won’t mind. The following this band has is incredibly devoted. Anyone who has been a part of this band’s journey to success feels like they’re a part of it.
I’ve read reviews saying this album is “disappointing.” I think people were expecting an edgier punk sound reminiscent of The Party Scene. I was expecting progression and a reflection of sorts from their last two albums. I got what I expected and I’m happy with it.
If you want to listen to a raw, edgy rock album, look no further than the Foo Fighter’s masterpiece Wasting Light, which as a top contender for AOTY for me. Dirty Work has songs I love but that doesn’t mean I think it’s a work of genius. I think it’s the next step for All Time Low. It may not end up on my list of Best Albums of 2011, but it’s safe to say this: if this record doesn’t launch All Time Low into mainstream success, nothing will.
All Time Low is a band with guys who clearly have a love for music that runs through their veins. They have been exposed to an industry that isn’t what it used to be, and they’ve met the people who influenced their sound. The place they’re in right now is an awesome place to be. As I write this, they’re number one on iTunes. Considering I first heard of this band six years ago, I’m impressed and I think they should be proud of their well deserved success.
They’re just getting started.